Photographed by Allie Bennett Weddings
One West Virginia couple returns to the scene of their proposal for an elegant autumn wedding.
Written by Shay Maunz
Kandace and Brian Duggan have one of those stories that isn’t all that remarkable—until you hear them tell it. They met through mutual friends, at an ordinary party that would surely have faded from their memory had it not played such an important role in the story of their romance. But Kandace and Brian relish the memory of that party, take such pleasure in remembering it that the feeling is contagious—by the end of the story you’re convinced it’s one of the best stories you’ve heard.
It goes like this: Kandace grew up in Teays Valley but, in 2008, was living in Columbus. Brian was living in Morgantown but visiting some friends in Columbus and, somehow, the two ended up at the same party. “We were all around a fire pit, and he was talking about the Steelers, defending the Steelers to some guy,” Kandace says. “I’m a huge Steelers fan, too, so I came to his defense. We automatically hit it off.” When they realized they were both from West Virginia something clicked, and they’ve been together ever since.
Kandace and Brian dated long distance for a while, until she moved back to West Virginia for graduate school at Marshall University—she’s a preschool teacher now. Brian, a sales representative, was living in Scott Depot by then, just 35 miles from Huntington, so they were finally able to be together full-time. Pretty soon it was time to take the next step.
They’d been dating for more than four years and talking about marriage for at least one, but somehow Kandace was still surprised. “I had no idea when or where or what he would do,” she says. Then one Friday in late September Brian picked up the ring and the couple left town for a weekend at Snowshoe Mountain Resort. “He was having trouble trying to figure out a place to hide it,” Kandace says of the ring. “It was in his bag, it was in his pocket—it ended up in his sock.”
Brian knew he wanted to propose that weekend, but he also didn’t want to plan every last detail. He wanted the moment to be just right, but he didn’t know when or how that would happen. “Sometimes the places there can get a little busy, so we had dinner reservations but I didn’t want to do it there,” Brian says. “I had the idea of doing it outside.” But then the conditions on the mountain didn’t cooperate. “It was so foggy you couldn’t even see any of the beautiful scenery,” Candace says. “So it wasn’t that romantic scenic thing you would think of when you think of a proposal.”
Undeterred, Brian led Kandace back to their room after dinner to hang out and a football game was playing on TV in the background. “We were kind of back to how we met,” Brian says. “There was football and there was a fireplace just like there was a fire pit back then.” The moment was starting to feel right, and then something happened that put it over the edge: Kandace’s iPhone was playing music on shuffle when one of their favorite songs, “Heavenly Day” by Patty Griffin, came on. “That song came on and he got down on one knee,” Kandace says. “It was perfect.”
They were engaged for exactly one year—it happened a few minutes before midnight on Friday, September 28, and they were married on Saturday, September 28, 2013. The engagement came full circle that day, because they returned to Snowshoe for the ceremony and reception. “I was enamored by the beauty of Snowshoe,” Kandace says. “When we got engaged the trees were starting to turn, and we had that cool, crisp weather. And it was secluded up there—I just thought it would be perfect.” They had the ceremony on a landing overlooking the mountains, and went inside the Soaring Eagle Lodge for the reception.
Kandace’s approach toward wedding planning was calm and professional. During those years she was living in Columbus she had been working as an event planner—she knew what she was doing. “Outlines,” Brian says. “She had a lot of outlines.” Kandace laughs. “I knew what I wanted,” she says. “I had a lot of lists and I was very prepared.” It didn’t hurt that she was one of the last people to get married out of a huge collection of friends—she’d been to a lot of weddings and had a good idea of what she liked and didn’t like. For her own wedding she wanted an elegant but intimate feel, with lots of details that reflected the natural beauty of the mountains around them.
Kandace’s big network of friends meant she was faced with a dilemma when it came time to settle on the wedding party. She had so many friends she loved so much she couldn’t stand to choose only a few. “I really struggled with that in the beginning,” she says. “We thought about just having our family and keeping it really intimate, but then when I sat down and really thought about it I realized I wouldn’t be who I am today without every single one of those girls, and I couldn’t imagine them not being right there with me.” So she filled her bridal party with the women and girls closest to her—all 13 of them. The gaggle of bridesmaids dwarfed Brian’s party of men—he used seven—but in the end the couple realized they cared less about symmetry than they did about having their loved ones with them at the altar.
Kandace dressed all those bridesmaids in pale pink chiffon, letting them choose their favorite dress from four she had selected. “I wanted them to be able to pick out what they wanted to wear, but I wanted what I wanted, too,” she says. She bought her own gown during a trip to Columbus when she went to a half-dozen stores and tried on dozens of dresses. In the end she got one of the first she put on, at the first store she went to—a Martina Liana dress with a sweetheart neckline and ruffled bottom that extended into the train. “I got a little emotional when I put it on the first time,” she says. “By the end of the day I was just so stressed out I didn’t know what I wanted. So we went back and when I tried it on again I got emotional again—and then I didn’t even know why I fought it in the beginning. It ended up being magical.”
It started—just like the engagement did, and the relationship before that—with football. Kandace and her bridesmaids took great care to set a serene tone for the day—they put the WVU game on in the background, but they muted it and elected instead to play soothing music. Meanwhile, the guys were watching the same game in the couples’ suite. And they weren’t quite so reserved. “The noise was permeating from the balcony of our room,” Kandace says. “People commented on it—they could hear them cheering.” Brian chimes in, “They beat Oklahoma State that day—so they actually ended up winning a game they weren’t supposed to,” he says. “That set a really good tone for the day.”
But at the end of the day, their favorite moments included some sweet times as well as some more silly things—like an impromptu dance-off during the middle of the reception. “We took over the dance floor,” Kandace says. “It was just fun and crazy.” They also prize the day’s more sentimental moments. Brian cherishes the first time he saw Kandace that day, when she was walking down the aisle. “A lot of emotions came over me—mostly calmness,” he says. “All of the nerves went away when I saw her.”
Kandace remembers a bird flying overhead while the couple was planting a tree to represent their unity—she thought of Brian’s grandmother, who passed away a few months before the wedding. “We felt like she was there with us,” she says. And they were both moved by their first dance as husband and wife, to the same song that was playing when they got engaged, “Heavenly Day.” “I felt like it all came together in that moment,” Brian says. “And I think at the wedding everyone got away and had their own little piece of heaven when we were all there together.”
Bride’s Gown: Elegant Bride, Columbus, OH
Bridesmaid Dresses: Elegant Bride, Columbus, OH
Groom & Groomsmen Attire: Jos. A. Bank, Charleston
Planner: Cheryl Sullivan Events, Hurricane
Flowers: Gillespie’s Flowers & Productions, White Sulphur Springs
Caterer: South Mountain Grille, Snowshoe
Cake: Greenbrier Valley Baking Co., Lewisburg
Video: McComas Video Productions, Huntington
Entertainment: The John Winntet, Richmond, VA
Location: Soaring Eagle Lodge, Snowshoe